THE ESPORTS REVOLUTION
The week of October 12, 2014
Issue10-IRL_Eefje-Sjokz-Depoortere_2500px

Me IRL: Sjokz

By Kevin Morris

There’s a chance that if you played on European servers for a game called Unreal Tournament around 1999, someone calling themselves “sjokz” ripped you apart with the purple blast of a shock rifle. The person behind that name was Eefje Depoortere, a young woman from Bruges, Belgium who had loaded up Unreal one day and never put it down. She’d eventually play at a high competitive level, competing in top tournaments on the continent. Eventually Unreal’s popularity faded; the scene fell apart.

But the seed of an esports obsession had been planted.

Years later, Depoortere is arguably the most famous esports personality who isn’t a player. She’s the de facto face of European League of Legends, the biggest competitive video game on the planet. As host for the game’s European league, called the League Championship Series, Depoortere takes the dual role of host and sideline reporter, a position that doesn’t really have a parallel in traditional sports. She’s like a Lesley Visser or Pam Oliver, but with some of the responsibilities of a Bob Costas thrown in for good measure. But unlike either of those NFL veterans, Depoortere represents a lot more than her professional role; she’s one of the first TV personalities for a sport that isn’t even on TV.

As a serious gamer herself, Depoortere is comfortable peppering the players with tough questions about strategies and tactics.

Getting there wasn’t easy. There was no linear, prescribed path for a career that didn’t exist until she made it. Depoortere juggled a series of odd jobs for years as she built her career in esports. While she waited tables, she appeared on various online talk shows about League of Legends. She eventually got a job doing interviews for the well-known European esports organization SK Gaming, and from there caught the eye of Riot Games, the League of Legends developer. The company had just moved its studios for the European LCS, and needed a host.

As a serious gamer herself, Depoortere is comfortable peppering the players with tough questions about strategies and tactics. She takes meticulous notes during the matches. She’s also tasked with pulling camera shy gamers out of their shells, which she handles with grace and awkward humor. And her career doesn’t end with the broadcast. Depoortere is entirely enmeshed in the scene, boasting hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Fans make mashups of her best and funniest moments; 245,000 people have watched a video in which she explains how to pronounce her real name (good luck, English speakers) and her gaming nickname. That, by the way, is pronounced “shocks” after her favorite weapon from Unreal Tournament.

In a sport where gamers’ careers don’t usually last long, Depoortere stands a chance of not just helping define the industry as it grows, but of becoming one of its most indelible stars.

What’s your earliest memory of the Internet?

When I was about 12 years old we got to use Altavista in history class to look up images of the French revolution, a whole new world! :-)

Who are your must-follows on Twitter? My must-follows are @Moobeat, @lolesports and @FroggenLoL – between them, I get my daily fix of esports and League news (and they’re pretty entertaining too).

What would you be do doing if the Internet didn’t exist?

I’m having a bit of anxiety just thinking about it! Very hard to imagine because so much of my life exists on and through the Internet!

Do your parents understand what you do for a living?

It took them a while to fully understand, but they did once they came to see a live show—the one in Wembley arena—and saw the huge crowd and production. When I explain what I do to other people, I compare our competitive system to a football league—with weekly games that award points and at the end of a season the teams with the most points qualify for the World championships. My role in all this is doing postgame interviews with the players.

Depoortere takes the dual role of host and sideline reporter, a position that doesn’t really have a parallel in traditional sports.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Getting our players to open up and speak their mind in front of a camera, especially when there’s translations involved. A lot of these guys suddenly became gamers with worldwide fame and get put in front of the camera and need to open up in front of thousands of viewers and don’t necessarily understand that building up an image for themselves will benefit them in the long run.

What advantages do esports have over traditional sports?

I don’t really think of the two as one over the other. But if there’s one thing I think is unique about esports is that even though our players have become big stars, they’re still very close to the fans and the community and there’s a high level of interaction between them.

In all your time broadcasting for the EU LCS, what moment stands out as your favorite?

The warmth and excitement we’ve received from the fans when we took the EU show on the road definitely stands out, the Moscow, London, Tenerife and Paris shows immediately come to mind. On a more personal note, that moment I got to walk onto the stage of the Staples Center to talk to the crowd opening the season 3 World Championship finals, I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Twenty years from now, what’s your legacy in esports and League of Legends?

I hope that in 20 years our show has evolved even more and what we are doing now as a production team is regarded as a base for even bigger productions and other huge sports productions get ideas from our shows and vice versa. I hope I am remembered as an objective sideline reporter and that I get to work behind the scenes helping to shape the shows of the future.   Illustration via J. Longo